Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bones & In Plain Sight: Concentrated Crime and the Need for TV Travel

It’s a scary time to live where I live—at least, it seems like that when I watch Bones.

I live in Washington, DC, and as I churn through these Bones DVDs, I am perpetually terrified by the insane amount of crime depicted in my town. Car bombs, murder in the Metro, and bodies on the scaffolding at the Washington Monument—these do not make me feel safe in my neighborhood.

You’d think that as the only forensic anthropologist from here to Montreal, Dr. Brennan would be doing a lot of traveling. She mentions that she helped at the World Trade Center after 9/11 and she spent time in New Orleans after Katrina, but you’d think that she and Booth would be called out into the field for high-profile stuff all the time, given their expertise and success rate at solving these mysteries. I have a hard time believing that the toughest cases all originate so close to home—it’s more than a little convenient and more than a little scary.

When I try to think about why so much Bones crime happens within the metro area, I have what I think is a pretty decent explanation—the size of the show’s ensemble and the efficacy of the Jeffersonian.

The X-Files was set primarily in Washington, DC, and while most of the really shady shit happened here, a significant portion of the monster-of-the-week episodes took place in cities and towns across the country. A quick scan of this Wikipedia page reminds me of MOTW sightings in New Jersey, Alaska, Washington state, Los Angeles, and Minnesota, among others. And when you really think about it, a lot of the mythology took place in the far reaches of the world: Tunisia, Roswell, Antarctica, Bellefleur, North Texas, and Africa.

What separates Bones from The X-Files is primarily ensemble size. The X-Files was just Mulder and Scully. They occasionally got help from Skinner or called in the Lone Gunmen for an assist, but for the most part, they were on their own. If it was just Bones and Booth solving crimes by themselves, they could jaunt off anywhere. But they need the squints, and it’s difficult to conduct that kind of business over the phone, even if you do have Brennan’s omnipotent cell. You just can’t take that many people on the road—it’s a pretty serious “too many cooks” problem and they don’t all fit in the rental car, anyway.

It’s not just about the team size, though. Think about Alias. She’s got a huge freaking team of experts, and where has Sydney Bristow not kicked ass?

Alias had spy gear, y’all. She had access to ECHELON, private military planes, spy satellites, hacking capabilities, and those pesky comms. Alias was trading in intelligence; Bones trades in, well, bones. You can get on comms and tell your dad you disarmed Anna Espinosa, but you can’t get Hodgins to analyze the particulates present on a corpse from miles and miles away. Hodgins needs a microscope and Angela needs the Angelator—their work is pretty confined to the Jeffersonian.

You have to use FedEx, and it’s just not that convenient.

So, okay. Technology and the team forces the Bones cases to take place within a limited radius of the Jeffersonian.

That doesn’t excuse the traveling travesty occurring over on In Plain Sight, another show I’ve recently started watching. Mary Shannon doesn’t travel nearly as much as should be required of a U.S. Marshal assigned to the Witness Protection Program. Mostly she’s just running around Albuquerque doing her thing. The one time she did travel, leaving her mom and sister to their own devices, the result was a catastrophic subplot made of stupid. (Those two need to get written out, and fast.)

What sucks about In Plain Sight is that Mary McCormack is so good in it. I mean, seriously, she’s amazing. But she’s surrounded by an extremely B-level ensemble. Not only are they weak characters, but none of the other actors have any ounce of chemistry with Mary. They need to bring in another detective—someone hot who Mary clashes with but is deep-down attracted to—or risk losing this show in a pit of boring. I can’t believe they let this show get on the air thinking that Marshall was a legitimate love interest.

Anyway, that has nothing to do with today’s topic, which is traveling.

The thing is, In Plain Sight makes it seem as though all of the witnesses relocated through the program end up in Albuquerque. Not only is that unrealistic, it’s also just irresponsible.

Series about federal agencies need to be able to travel. It’s imperative. They have to mix things up, help out other jurisdictions, and mostly, in the case of Bones, they need to make me feel safer in my own home.

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